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March 1538. Agen, France.
Julius Caesar Scaliger was the most noted scholar in Agen, and, indeed, most of
Southern France. He was a poet, grammarian, author, orator, physician, soldier,
scientist, botanist, and astrologer. He had a monstrously large wrinkled forehead and a
receding hairline of curly brown hair which met in the middle in a pronounced widow‘s
peak. His eyebrows were pencil-thin and seemed too long for his popping, frog-like
eyes, and the gray bags underneath his eyes were earned from too much reading. His
most prominent feature, however, was his moustache and beard. His thick, twisted
moustache was no match for the bushy, tumbleweed of a beard which went down to the
top of his chest. Despite his unkept beard, however, he was a meticulous dresser, and
was often seen strutting down the limestone streets of Agen with his walnut walking
stick. Scaliger, a confirmed egomaniac, had an opinion about everything, and whatever
the opinion was, he was sure to share it with as large an audience as he could find. He
loved the scholarly debate with other brilliant minds, but truly felt that no one was his
intellectual equal in the end. A friendly debate would often end with Scaliger sighing and
feeling sorry for his opponent, who just could not seem to grasp why Scaliger‘s own
position was the superior one.
Scaliger had come to Agen in 1525 as the personal physician and good friend of
Antonio della Rovero, the Archbishop of Agen. Scaliger liked to tell that he was born at
Castle La Rocca and was a scion of the House of La Scala, a prestigious family of nobles
who had ruled Verona, Italy for 150 years. He claimed to be related to Emperor
Maximilian. A page at the age of 12, he fought as a soldier for the Emperor for seventeen
years. At the Battle of Ravena, his father and brother were killed. Scaliger claimed that
he performed dozens of acts of valor during the battle and, in reward, the Emperor had
bestowed upon him the highest honors of chivalry, including the Order of the Golden
Spur. Injuries during the war ended his prestigious military career, so Scaliger took up
the study of medicine at the University of Bologna, where he excelled. Scaliger‘s critics
later claimed that much of this history was a web of lies; that he was really the son of
Benedetto Bordone, a Verona map maker; and that he had not been educated in Bologna,
but at a less prestigious university in Padua. In any event, no one in Agen assumed he
was anything less than the genuine article, and the local politicians warmly welcomed
and respected him.
Shortly after arriving in Agen, Scaliger had met a beautiful thirteen year-old Agen
girl named Andiette de Roques Lobejac, who had never told Scaliger that she had fled to
Agen as a young girl and had been adopted by a local family.. Even though she was
thirty years his junior, he found her absolutely delightful and, after overcoming some
objections from the girl‘s father due to their age disparity, the two were quickly wed. His
wife Andiette went on to have sixteen children, the oldest of which was Henriette.
Henriette was a perfect child—intellectually and physically brilliant, obedient, hard-
working, honest and loyal. Scaliger, who could find faults with everyone, nevertheless
could find no fault with his eldest daughter, and saw her as a miniature version of
himself. He loved teaching her fractions, puzzles, anagrams, and astrology. The child
just absorbed knowledge like a sponge.